Create Reflections in Photoshop with Smart Objects

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With Photoshop’s Smart Objects you can combine multiple layers into one, distort them, mask them, add adjustment layers, and most importantly, change the contents at a later date. And when you duplicate a Smart Object layer, any changes made in the original are reflected in the altered version as well.

This tutorial is split into two halves. First we’ll see how to create a Smart Object and distort it to match the shape and position of the existing sign in this bathroom; then, in Part 2 we’ll look at adding masks and adjustment layers to blend the signs into the background scene more effectively. 

The original scene

Here’s the starting shot of the bathroom sink. The sign has been placed behind the tap, and the flimsy laminated card bends as it leans against the wall. Reproducing the reflection in the shiny tiles will provide a separate challenge later.

Create the design

Make a new layer for the placard itself. Draw a rectangular selection the same shape as the card, and fill it with the color of your choice. Add all the extra text and design elements on additional layers above this one. You can add as many layers as you like.

Make the Smart Object

 

Select all the layers that make up the new placard, by clicking on the bottom one and then holding Shift as you click on the top one. Alternatively, hold Command (Mac) / Ctrl (Win) and click on each layer in turn to add it to the selection. Once they’re all selected, click on the tiny menu icon at the top right of the Layers panel, and select Convert to Smart Object from the pop-up menu (or just choose it from the Layers menu).

The Smart Object

 

Turning all those layers into a Smart Object makes them appear to be a single layer, as seen in the Layers panel. Only the small icon in the bottom right corner of the thumbnail preview indicates that it is something other than a regular layer. Note that the Smart Object always takes the name of the topmost layer when the Smart Object was created; you can change this name if you wish.

Distort with Free Transform

 

Use Edit > Free Transform to distort the sign. You’ll find it easier to see what you’re doing if you reduce the opacity of the layer slightly, so you can see through it. Hold Command (Mac) / Ctrl (Win) as you drag each corner independently, moving them so they align with the corners of the original placard.

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